The different types of leathers for men’s footwear
Men’s classic shoes are diverse in style and use, thus demanding different leathers for different occasions. Here we break down our favourite leathers for a better understanding of their unique characteristics.
Quintessentially American, Bison leather is a beautiful, highly durable material from the American Buffalo (or Bison). Noted for its distinct natural grain, the Bison fibres are substantial and widely spaced, leading to a soft and resilient handle. Water resistant, Bison leather was traditionally used to clad teepees and today is crafted into everything from wallets and bags to men’s designer shoes. Due to its marginal tanning process, the Bison’s unique grain design is preserved and thus no two Bison products are the same. As the hides are not stretched to the same degree as cowhide, the leather is also up to 40% thicker and stronger - ideal for making men’s boots.
Living in alpine terrain across Asia (found predominantly in China and Tibet), the yak thrives in harsh and rugged environments, resulting in a hide that is significantly denser than cow leather. Traditionally used to produce handcrafted shoes and boots, yak hide reveals distinct markings and a crazed grain texture in its treated leather. However, despite the tough and highly insulated nature of this material, yak hide is also surprisingly supple, lightweight and breathable. It’s, for this reason, it’s perfect for use in men’s boots. We make a great Yak leather derby shoe as seen below.
Cordovan, also known as Shell Cordovan, is a highly sought-after leather produced from the shell (or flat muscle) at the bottom of a horse’s hide. Exceedingly nonporous, the leather’s fibre is tightly packed with no visible grain structure - making for a high-end build quality in men’s designer shoes. Very durable, this leather is known for its excellent moulding characteristics, a glossy patina and for the fact that it does not crease. However, the natural vegetable tanning process is only conducted in a handful of tanneries around the world and is a labour intensive practice that takes about 6 months. As such, genuine Shell Cordovan is hard to come by and certainly not produced in high volumes. The antique Cognac desert boot uses this type of leather.
Accounting for 65-70% of the world’s leather production, cow leather is encountered frequently across our day-to-day lives. Durable, tough and flexible, it’s considered the most versatile hide. Used in the production of soles and shoe uppers, it conforms to the unique shape of the foot that wears it and as such is widely considered an excellent choice for men’s footwear.
Traditionally worn and used by the Sioux Indian, Deerskin strikes an interesting juxtaposition between its supple, incredibly soft handle and its very stretchable, robust fibres. In fact, Deerskin is the third strongest leather known to man so while the tanning process is tedious and challenging, the finished material is incredibly soft and insulating, moulding to the wearer’s body over time.
Noted for its exceedingly fine-grain texture, calfskin is incredibly soft and light. While appearing quite delicate, this leather is still durable and so it is used widely in producing fashion accessories. This is also why it’s considered a favourite in designer wares and hand crafted shoes. The Black parade boot (see below) is a good example of this type of leather.
Roaming the South African plains, the Kudu’s (an Antelope-like creature) reversible suede and leather facing have traditionally been used for upholstery, though today it’s also recognised as an ideal material for apparel. Given the thorny environment in which the Kudu lives, its leather is known for scars and scratches that contribute to its unique character. Silky to the touch, this light yet tough leather is considered quite exclusive within the apparel industry, so will be most commonly found in hand crafted shoes and accessories.